SA football 1, Irvin Khoza 0

2009-10-03 00:00

IT’S been an overwhelming week in South African football. The victory of Kirsten Nematandani in the SA Football Association presidential elections should not have come as that much of a surprise — Safa’s chairman of referees was the number two candidate for the Football Transformation Forum that was backing Danny Jordaan, and there was always a chance the LOC chief executive would be judged ineligible to run. And yet it hit home like a bombshell.

What seemed so unbelievable was not that Nematandani and the FTF had won, but that Irvin Khoza had lost. Or rather had stormed past waiting journalists outside the heavily-protected Safa House at Soccer City, mumbled something about “coming back later”, jumped into his silver-grey Jaguar driven by close associate and “Spy vs Spy” dress-sense candidate Peter Mancer, and scarpered before the election could be put to a vote.

And so, perhaps, came to an end an era at Safa that would best be forgotten. A period in which the national team has slipped from the top 30s to 73, and has exited two African Nations Cup tournaments in the first round and not qualified for the next one in Angola. And during which Bafana Bafana’s six-year build-up to the hosting of the 2010 World Cup, since it was announced this country would hold the event on May 14, 2004, has been marked by hiring and firing of coaches, cut-throat politics, incompetence and seemingly nothing being done in terms of development.

Nematandani and the Jordaan-backing FTF, whose candidates Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana and Shoes Mazibuko were installed as vice-presidents after the presidential vote, have promised reform. If they keep to their word, this is excellent news for the future of South African football after the World Cup. But surely for 2010 it is too late.

Not that the battle for the heart and soul of Safa is necessarily over yet. Knowing the resilience of a certain Dr Khoza, this might just be beginning.

To begin with, as LOC chairman, PSL chairman, a Safa vice-president and Orlando Pirates owner, Khoza still has significant power in South African football. And the “Iron Duke” has vowed to take the presidential issue to court. As reports have it, though, Khoza does not appear to have a leg to stand on.

A review of the timeline of events since Saturday’s elections appears to reveal this. It also gives an insight into the sort of political manoeuvring and abuse of power that have come close to bringing Safa to its knees, and are probably the exact reason Khoza lost, and why the Pirates owner’s influence on South African football has been so destructive and had to come to an end.

The first issue of contention on Saturday, which saw the first of three parties walk out, was when retired Judge Ralph Zulman and advocate Ishmael Semenya threw up their arms and proclaimed themselves unable to resolve the matter of eligibility of both candidates. They had proposed that the elections be delayed to conclude the issue. In response Jordaan decided rather to withdraw his candidacy. The reason he later gave was that South Africa had told the world they would hold an election before the World Cup and it could not be delayed given its proximity to 2010. Thus the FTF’s number two candidate, Nematandani, would stand.

The next significant occurrence was that a vote was held to determine whether the North West’s Motsweding region, a known FTF backer, should be allowed to participate in the election because it had submitted its delegation list late. The vote in favour was 126 to 112. From this point it became clear that in a presidential vote, the FTF must win, and a delegate aligned to Khoza, Mubarak Mohammed, was reportedly heard to say, “We are going to lose this thing.” After an adjournment Khoza stood up and said: “For the sake of football and unity in football I am withdrawing my candidacy.”

But Khoza appeared not to have taken into account football’s sake two days later when he called a press conference at the PSL offices. The Iron Duke did not even bother to pitch up and sent PSL CEO Kjetil Siem to read the statement to an incredulous press that the league was declaring the Safa elections illegitimate. His reasoning: that Judge Zulman had recommended the elections be postponed.

Though, in the words of Jordaan: “I withdrew from the election, the other candidate withdrew. There was only one candidate so there was no election. If there is only one candidate, then that person is duly appointed.” It doesn’t seem to take a law degree to figure that one out.

Never mind that the PSL falls under Safa as its professional arm, and that the body should not be taking sides in a Safa election. Clearly Khoza is clutching at straws and does not want to relinquish a battle that would have left him without a doubt the most powerful man in football. Without a solid argument, though, the Bucs owner would be doing South Africa a huge disservice drawing out a battle he has clearly been outmanoeuvred in, and lost fair and square.

On the positive side, in Nematandani Safa has a slick, sophisticated new president who seems set on cleaning up the association and reforming South African football.

Much needs to be done. He has started by laying down the law to Bafana coach Joel Santana. With the FTF in charge, it seems more likely that, should Santana, or any other future coach, get the boot, it will have been for clearly-thought-out reasons, and not personal agendas by means of cloak-and-dagger politics. For the future, cities like Pietermaritzburg and Durban need organised school leagues. A well-run Safa will draw the sponsors for this. Once we see that these sorts of measures are being put in place, we will know the new Safa is on the right track.

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